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COMICS: Welcome Back to Bloom County

About two months ago, I (along with the entirety of the comics-reading world) was shocked when Berke Breathed announced with very little fanfare that he’d be reviving his seminal (and I don’t use that word lightly) comic strip Bloom County. Reactions varied from disbelief to swooning joy to pointed disinterest. After all, while the daily Bloom County strip might have ended in 1989, Breathed hardly disappeared from the scene. He continued to do Sunday-only weekly cartoons in the form of Outland, which featured many of his most popular characters, in particular Opus the penguin and Bill the cat. And though Outland ceased in 1995, Breathed returned to Sunday comic pages in 2003 with Opus (again, featuring his famous penguin) for another five-year run.

None of the Sunday-only strips had the same success as the original Bloom County did. In fact, to me they always seemed like pale echoes of the original work. I read them with a sense of nostalgia, but never really felt invested the way I did when reading Breathed’s comics in the ’80s. So even when he made the announcement of Bloom County 2015, my reaction was somewhat melancholy. My internal voice was saying, “That’s nice . . . but it’s not like you really MEAN it,” and more particularly, “It won’t be the same.” I figured it would be another Sunday-only style strip that he’d update semi-regularly and probably soon grow bored with. After all, Breathed has spent much of the last decade creating children’s books (and occasionally seeing them turned into really terrible movies).

But to my surprise, he DID really mean it. And the format of Bloom County 2015 is much closer to the original. Though not published daily, it is appearing 4-5 times per week in standard four-panel daily-style strips . . . and THAT makes all the difference!

Bloom County was strongest when Breathed was unwinding little stories that took a week or two to tell, and the characters had a sense of life and continuity. Sure, he always could tell a good stand-alone gag, but I don’t think that was what his fans loved most. It was, and apparently remains, his ability to mix absurdist situational comedy with editorial commentary on the issues of the day (often focusing on the politics of the day). That’s what his weekly strips failed to capture and THAT’S exactly what he’s doing again with Bloom County 2015.

The only real question I have is why he’s using his Facebook page as the main hub for the comic. Honestly, I’m surprised that others haven’t been publicly pondering that particular decision, given how much scrutiny everything that happens on Facebook gets. (I suspect he’s getting a pretty good paycheck for having picked that venue . . . but I have no evidence of that, just my suspicious mind.)

Anyway, if you’re a fan of classic Bloom County, you really should take the time to try out the 2015 version. Berke Breathed really has recaptured the magic.

August Wrap-Up . . . September Overview

What? September 1st? Holy cats! Where did August go?!?

Okay, it started with Gen Con. And after that I was on the east coast for another ten days visiting family. And since I got back to Seattle I’ve been heads-down on a series of projects that were close to- or over-due. It certainly explains HOW the last few weeks have seemed to disappear so quickly . . . but it doesn’t really make me feel any better about it. And, as I look ahead to what this month has in store, I see another busy road. Here are the highlights (in as much as I can talk about them).

PROJECT: DAYTON — This is a gig for an e-game company writing voice-over dialog for an unannounced upcoming game. I made my midway turn over today, but the second half of work should hit my desk sometime next week. Fun work, but it tends to push other things aside while I’m focused on it.

WORK FOR VIZ — I’ve got no fewer than three assignments for Viz Media that have to be fully or partially done during September. One is the localization for an upcoming volume of the Ultraman manga, and the two others I can’t name specifically. In any case, that’s a fair bit of time at the keyboard.

PROJECT: PENGUIN — I mentioned this in vague terms in August . . . and really, I can’t give any more details now. It’s work for a private client that will have me drawing a lot of pictures of penguins. I’m behind on my milestones . . . and it’s bugging me even more because THIS is the most fun of the assignments on my plate. I WANT to be spending most of the month on this, but reality is making that look uncertain.

PROJECT: WRAP IT UP ALREADY — I’ve got a handful of micro-assignments, often just an individual drawing or short writing assignment, that I’ve been dragging around MEANING to finish up. I really NEED to polish a bunch of these off this month.

PROJECT: GAMERATI — Since July I’ve been doing some work with the Gamerati organization, editing and helping to curate the new and growing series of articles they’re publishing on the website. I’ll try to do a better job of shining a spotlight on these as they roll along.

PROJECT: BLOG — As you’ve probably noticed, over the past few weeks I’ve managed to begin posting here on the blog more regularly . . . and I want to keep that up! I’m trying to re-solidify my old habit of planning ahead, putting in a little work every day, and keeping a steady stream of (hopefully) interesting posts here. I’d LIKE to start making some of the posts be DRAWINGS of one sort or another . . . but that requires me to actually draw more than I’ve been successful in doing. However, if I CAN make this happen, I’ll ALSO probably succeed in jump-starting a couple of ongoing projects I’d like to do . . . and maybe even give me enough impetus to launch a Patreon page!

PROJECT: BARKER — Finally, I’ve had an idea that’s been rattling around in my head for the last 12–18 months . . . a new game . . . and I may have found the right venue to coax my brain into actually getting it DONE. But this is more likely to be at BEST an October project.

TRAVEL — Two weeks ago I’d have told you that I was NOT planning to leave the Seattle area at all in September. Now it’s seeming very likely that I’ll be down in the Los Angeles and Portland areas for at least a day or two. If I’m likely to have any free time during those trips, I’ll try to arrange a meet up of some kind.

One-Minute Time Machine

To start off your week, a fun little sci-fi/rom-com short film. Really, it would take longer to explain than it would for you to watch it . . . so what are you waiting for?

SUMO: Banzuke Predictions

Yesterday, I talked a bit about how sumo rankings work. (Sorry if I ran a little long . . . as you probably have already surmised, I’m pretty excited about the upcoming tournament.) With all of that as background info, I’ll now let you know what I think the banzuke is going to look like for the upcoming Aki Basho.

YOKOZUNA
There are currently three yokozuna, and their relative strength is pretty well established. Hakuho won the Nagoya Basho (and two of the other three tournaments this year) and is generally accepted to be one of, if not the, greatest yokozuna of all time, so he’ll clearly take the top East spot. The real question is whether or not Harumafuji, who missed most of the last tournament due to an arm injury, will be healthy enough to return, or if he’ll take another basho off to heal up. Even if he does return, I think they’ll give the top top West spot to Kakuryu, who battled Hakuho down to the final day in Nagoya. While Harumafuji has been a strong yokozuna, he almost never contends for the title, losing sloppy matches in the first week that take him off the pace for good. So I think the Sumo Association will put him in the secondary East rank, if only to encourage him to push himself to out-do Kakuryu.

OZEKI
There are still four ozeki, with Kotoshogiku having managed to eke out an 8-7 record and avoid demotion (he was kadoban in Nagoya). Still that’s a pretty weak performance for an ozeki, so I don’t expect him to be rewarded much. Terunofuji, on the other hand was 11-4 and contended for the yusho in his first tournament at the ozeki rank, so I expect he WILL be rewarded. Likewise, Kisenosato had a strong tournament and finished 10-5, but since he was already Ozeki 1 East the only “reward” they can give him is to keep that rank. And though Goeido put in only a middling performance with a 9-6 record at Ozeki 1 West, it’s hard to see how they could “demote” him out of that spot. Terunofuji will leapfrog Kotoshogiku with the former ending up at Ozeki 2 East and the latter at Ozeki 2 West.

SANYAKU
The Sekiwake and Komusubi are where things start to get interesting. Sekiwake East, Tochiozan, finished Nagoya with a strong 10-5 record, having stayed in the hunt for the yusho most of the way through the tournament, so he’ll keep that rank. On the other hand, Sekiwake West Ichinojo put in a terrible performance of 4-11. Normally, I’d expect them to drop him out of the sanyaku ranks, but the upper maegashira rikishi were so lackluster in July that I think he’ll luck out and end up as Komusubi West for the Aki Basho. Meanwhile, last tournament’s Komusubi West, Myogiryu, had a solid 8-7 tournament in July, and I think they’ll give him a boost up to Sekiwake West in September. Unfortunately for July’s Kimusubi East, Takarafuji had a dismal 4-11 record and he should find himself around Maegashira 2 or 3 in September (he might have fallen further, but as I said before, the rikishi below him also had pretty bad tournaments). Taking his spot at Komusubi East will be Tochinoshin, who had a respectable 8-7 record at Maegashira 1 East in Nagoya.

UPPER MAEGASHIRA (1–5)
Of the ten rikishi at this level, only three had winning records in July. As described above, I think that Tochinoshin will get a bump to sanyaku, leaving the Maegashira 1 spots to be filled by the only two other winning rikishi—Aoiyama and Okinoumi. Most of the rest finished with 6-9 or 7-8 records, so I expect they’ll just get a big shuffle, mostly dropping only a single rank, with the exception of Ikioi. He had a calamitous 2-13 record at Maegashira 3, so I expect him to drop down to somewhere around Maegashira 8 in September. Coming up to fill in the empty spaces should be Sadanofuji, Yoshikaze, and Osunaarashi (who fought like a madman in July, notching an 11-4 record despite having an obviously painful shoulder injury).

MIDDLE MAEGASHIRA (6–10)
Oddly, the middle Maegashira rikishi ALSO had lackluster records in July. Besides the three listed above, only two others squeaked by with 8-7 records—Tamawashi and Amuru. They should remain in the mid-ranks, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see most of the rest of these rikishi take 3-5 spot falls and have this section of the banzuke look very different for the new tournament. Major names I expect to see in this ranking include Gagamaru, Endo and Kotoyuki.

LOWER MAEGASHIRA (11–16)
It really was an uninspired tournament all-around, because even at the lower Maegashira ranks, where a losing record can mean demotion out of the top division, most of the rikishi failed to make their make-koshi (majority of wins). I expect at least 3 rikishi will get demoted (Tohyohibiki, Satoyama, and Takanoiwa), while three others hold on by the skin of their teeth (Seiro, Hidenoumi, and Kyokutenho). Though, word is that Kyokutenho, who would turn 41 on the first day of the Aki Basho, was considering announcing his retirement. I hope he at least waited around to see what the banzuke said, because if he could luck out, this would be his 100th basho in the Maegashira ranks—a plateau that isn’t reached very often.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.

We won’t have to wait long to see if I’m right. The new banzuke is supposed to be released tomorrow, and the Aki Basho is set to kick off in two weeks on Sunday 8/13.

Ooooo! I can hardly wait!

SUMO: The Aki Basho is Coming

You can tell the summer is almost over because in just a couple of days the Sumo Association will release the banzuke (ranking sheet) for the Aki Basho (Autumn Tournament). Before that happens, though, I want to take a chance to look back at the results of July’s Nagoya Basho and make some predictions about what the banzuke will actually look like.

I’ll tackle the rikishi in groups based on their rankings in the previous tournament. For those of you who don’t know, the upper division has 15 or 16 paired ranking slots, East and West (with each slot being basically equal, but the East side considered to be the more prestigious). Above that are the titled ranks of Komosube and Sekiwake, and the champion rank of Ozeki. Finally there is the grand-champion rank of Yokozuna. (Together, all of the titled ranks are known as Sanyaku, signifying their station as a class above the regular Maegashira rikishi.)

For all of the rikishi up through Sekiwake, their ranking on the new banzuke depends entirely on how they did in the previous tournament. If they had eight or more wins, they will likely go up (if there is an appropriate open slot above them). If they had eight or more losses, they will certainly go down (exactly how far depends on how many losses they had and how much spirit they showed in fighting through their poor performance). Ozekis are special in that only one losing record will not cause them to face demotion. Because this is a champion level, and it is so difficult to gain a promotion this high (and the competition is extraordinarily stiff at this level) they must have eight or more losses for two tournaments in a row before they are demoted. (An Ozeki who had a losing record in the previous tournament is said to be “kadoban,” meaning that if he has that kind of performance again, he will be demoted back to lower Sanyaku.) Yokozuna, on the other hand, never get demoted. Once they have proven themselves strong enough to be declared grand champions, they are secure in that rank for the rest of their fighting days. Of course, that also means if their performance starts to suffer significantly, they are pressured to retire rather than bring embarrassment to the rank.

With all these moving parts and conditional situations, you may have already realized that determining the exact rankings on the banzuke is more of an art than a science. And as such, as each basho approaches, sumo fans have a great deal of fun predicting and arguing about what the rankings are likely to be.

Tomorrow, I’ll let post what I think the Aki Basho banzuke will look like. Then on Monday, we’ll get to see how good a job I did.

 

Kirby Day!

As I mentioned last week, today would have been Jack “King” Kirby‘s 98th birthday! To celebrate, his granddaughter Jillian has started an organization called Kirby 4 Heroes that is raising funds in the King’s name and donating them to the Hero Initiative (a charity that supports comic book industry veterans who are in need).

Lots of different events are going on around the country (and across the world), but one of the most interesting to me is artist Phil Hester‘s #98Kirbys fund drive. He’s committed to drawing 98 sketch cards with Kirby-created characters and giving them as rewards to folks who have donated to Hero Initiative and signed up for the 98 Kirbys event. I’ll be checking back throughout the day to see how his work is going . . . and how many sketch cards he can actually do in the course of one day.

Maybe next year I’ll be organized enough to get involved with #99Kirbys and do some Kirby sketching of my own!

Make ’em Laugh

I see a lot of photos pass across my screen each day. And over on my Facebook page, I post and forward a fair number of them, myself. But this is one of my favorite images I’ve seen in a very long time.

Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Dick Van Dyke are three men who have been making me laugh pretty much for my entire life. Growing up, we had two of the original 2000 Year-Old Man albums that Brooks and Reiner did in the early 1960s. That I listened to them over and over seemed, according to family legend, to be foretold by the fact that my mother was listening to one when she went into labor while carrying me. And of all the sit-coms re-running across the TV screen during my childhood, the only one that my grandmother insisted we watch every day was The Dick Van Dyke Show. Indeed she’d re-arrange her schedule so that she’d never miss an episode of this show she’d already seen dozens of times.

Things change. People grow older. Older people leave us, eventually, with empty chairs where they used to sit. Both my mother and my grandmother have passed on. But it does my heart good, it makes me smile in a broad beaming way that fills me with peace and with hope, to see these three men, all in their 80s now, still out there. Still up there making me laugh.

Thanks, guys!

COMICS: Dark Knight 3? . . . No Thank You

Today was Wednesday, and as many of you out there will know, that means it’s New Comics Day! (Also it’s BBQ Lunch Day . . . but that’s a different matter entirely.) It’s the day when the weekly shipment of new comics and other geekly paraphernalia is available on the shelves of specialty shops across the U.S.

This was an expensive week for me as it included volume 4 of the super-sized hardcover Usagi Yojimbo Saga plus four other comics that piqued my interest. (In case you’re curious, they were Godzilla in Hell #2, Big Trouble in Little China #15, and two one-shot comics, Last Days of Ant-Man and Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra.) But also in this week was the new issue of Previews, the catalog/magazine that announces upcoming titles and serves as an order form for what will be on the shelf three months from now. Plastered across the cover of the new issue of Previews is the “big new release” for November—the first issue of a third and final “Dark Knight” series written and drawn by Frank Miller.

A quick recap for those of you who aren’t long-time comic fans: It was Frank Miller who, in 1986, literally and almost singlehandedly changed the course of mainstream comics when he wrote and illustrated a three-issue reinterpretation of Batman called The Dark Knight Returns. At that point, after years of being mainstreamed by TV series, animated shows, and every kind of licensed product one can imagine, the caped crusader was a smiling, jovial, completely heroic character—one of the anchors of the DC Universe. But Miller dared to take the character back to his original iteration as a dark, mysterious, unrelenting dispenser of vigilante justice. It was so well done and so different than everything that had been done with the character, indeed that had been done with mainstream comics for the previous thirty years that the comic-reading world went bananas for it. Soon this “dark and gritty” re-interpretation was being applied to other characters at both DC and Marvel, leading both of the mainstream publishers to change the tenor of their comics away from heroic four-color tales and toward ambiguous real-world pragmatism—a move that they are only just now starting to recover from.

And now—now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the television shows and, yes, even comic book series it has inspired are starting to bring a little levity, heroism, and fun back to the world of mainstream super heroes—now is the time that DC has decided to let Frank Miller have another crack at turning everything dark again.

It’s not really that surprising. Miller’s turns at Batman have always been good for sales. And the Cinematic Universe that DC has been crafting—with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films and both Superman Returns and (even more) Man of Steel—is a very dark place where “heroes” are dangerous and not to be trifled with. DC’s movies are filled with angst, fear, and destruction on a city- or worldwide scale. If their movies are going to pay off, DC needs to keep “dark and gritty” as the super hero touchstone, so of course now is the perfect time for a third Dark Knight comic series.

Except it isn’t.

Marvel’s movies are capturing the public’s imagination (and theater-going dollars) and reminding folks that super hero stories can be fun, uplifting, and filled with actual heroism. It’s interesting that on the small screen DC is embracing the “fun and heroic” model with their shows Arrow and The Flash (and seemingly the upcoming Supergirl). But they seem completely incapable (or unwilling) to let that light shine in their theatrical productions.

In 1986, Miller’s dark and gritty take on Batman was going against the tide. It could even have been said to be radical or revolutionary. Today it’s just another disaffected note in an age of cynicism and distrust of anyone with any measure of power. Miller’s Batman doesn’t have anything new to say to a modern audience.

So as much as I enjoyed the original Dark Knight Returns, and a great deal of Frank Miller’s other work, I find I have absolutely no interest in this new series.

Political Satire: Looking Back at Pres. Trump

This weekend, the NPR show On the Media presented an amazing audio adaptation of a brilliant article by Jon Lovett that appeared recently in The Atlantic magazine. The article “looks back” on America in the wake of a recently ended Trump presidency, and it’s definitely worth 10 minutes of your time!

This has all the best hallmarks of good allegorical futurism . . . it explains how the world can get reasonably get from where we are to the future the tale describes, it shines a spotlight on our cultural (and human) foibles and strengths, it is at the same time a cautionary tale and one that feels like there’s hope for us yet.

I’ve listened to it a few times already, and I think I’ll go back to it again as the 2016 presidential races lumber forward. Cheers to John Lovett and to the producers of On the Media.

Star Trek—Where to Have ‘First Contact’?

The other day, a friend asked my advice on a matter of great geekly importance. “My kids are old enough to enjoy Star Trek,” she said, “but where should I begin?”

What a GREAT question! With six different TV series (including the animated show), twelve movies, plus comics, novels, and other licensed iterations, there are A LOT of different ways a potential new fan can have a “first contact” with the folks from Starfleet. 

I wish I had an easy answer, but the truth is that parents (or well-meaning aunts and uncles) are going to want to make different choices based on the particular likes and dislikes of the kids.

My gut reaction is to advise starting with the original series (TOS) because it literally is where it all begins. TOS sets the tone for everything that develops later on, and it’s rarely a terrible idea to simply “start at the beginning.” But it IS a 50-year-old network TV show, and for modern audiences the “cheese factor” is incredibly high. Star Trek was groundbreaking on so many levels in 1966, but it’s just part of the cultural landscape now. The acting, props, effects, and scripts are from another era, and many kids (heck, many young adults) have little patience for something that FEELS like it is so far removed from their day-to-day lives. So unless your kids are ALREADY fans of classic television, I probably WOULDN’T suggest starting with TOS.

Star Trek: the Animated Series is both more approachable AND presents the basics of Trek well. It was made for a younger audience, but even though it was playing off the popularity that Star Trek was having in syndication, it didn’t presume that the Saturday morning audience would come with any real insight or experience with the show. Still, it is a 40-year-old show and can have problems similar to those that TOS presents. All in all, though, this is PROBABLY where I’d suggest starting MOST kids (since the shows are only 20 minutes long and designed for new/young audiences).


Star Trek: the Next Generation (TNG), while being a 25-year-old show, actually still feels relatively “modern.” If you’re bound to start your kid off with a live-action show, this is probably the series to start with. But it’s important to remember that the show had some real rough spots, not the least of which is that the initial season was written very quickly in the wake of a major Hollywood writer’s strike. So if you do want to start with TNG, I’d suggest initially curating the presentation—picking out particular episodes that you know will hit the right notes for the new viewers (or simply ones you liked, perhaps).


I WOULDN’T start anyone off with Deep Space 9 (DS9) or Voyager or Enterprise. This isn’t a particular knock on any of those shows (though my personal opinion of their value covers a very wide range), it has to do with the fact that they each present alternative takes on the basic Trek formula and point of view. While it’s certainly possible to start with one of these series AND become a fan . . . it’s unlikely that fandom will stretch to the broader Star Trek Universe. They’ll simply become a fan of THAT particular flavor of Trek and wonder why more was never done with it.

Likewise, I’d keep away from using the Star Trek movies as introductions, too. As good as they can be (and Wrath of Khan is one of my favorite movies of ANY kind), NONE of them present Trek in the way the television shows do. They’re all BIG stories with BIG action and BIG consequences, often relying (or at least counting on) your past knowledge of and affection for the characters and their existing relationships. Also, they tend to be written for a more grown-up audience (dealing with subjects like aging, death, loss, and other things that are appropriate for characters in their positions . . . but not necessarily compelling to new—and particularly young—viewers).

In particular I would keep new viewers FAR away from the most recent Star Trek movies. Although they are certainly made for a modern audience, and kids are likely to enjoy the high-action romp, they give the absolute WRONG perspective on what Star Trek is all about. Kids who are introduced to Kirk, Spock, and Starfleet through the J.J. Abrams films are NOT likely to enjoy ANY of the Trek TV series. If you want your kids to have ONE positive Star Trek experience, then showing them the Abrams movies is a fine idea. If you want to help them become overall Star Trek fans, it’s a TERRIBLE one.

I’m not sure how helpful my answers were to my friend . . . but I’m sure I gave her a lot to think about. But what do YOU think? If you had kids and wanted to introduce them to Star Trek, where would you start? Or, if you DO have kids and you HAVE made the attempt, what did you try and how did it go?